Leica Historical Society
Backstory and Context
In Wetzlar, Germany, Carl Kellner founded an Optical Institute, which produced glasses and telescopes, in 1849. After publishing “Ocular orthoscopy, a recently invented combination of achromatic lenses” in 1851, Kellner’s business began creating some of the finest microscopes of its time. He died just four years later at the age of twenty-nine. Kellner’s widow and one of his apprentices, Friedrich Belthle, then took over the company. Belthle was succeeded by Ernst Leitz, a young mechanic who worked at the Optical Institute. He renamed the company Ernst Leitz-Optical Works-Wetzlar.
In 1913, inventor Oskar Barnack came up with the Ur-Leica, the prototype of a small-format 35mm camera. A decade later, the company produced machinery that could make 35 mm film, which was commonly used for movie cameras but would be used for the new type of Leica cameras. The portable Leica I was launched at the 1925 Leipzig Spring Fair in Germany. It helped make 35 mm film a standard choice in the industry for decades.
A new-and-improved version of the Leica camera came out in 1930. Its lens mount was standardized so that lenses and lens bodies could be interchanged. Two years later, the Leica II premiered, which included a viewfinder and rangefinder, two features that had been previously been separate from cameras. Lecia II cameras would be copied by other companies after World War II when Leica production slowed. The Leica III, released in 1933, took shutter speeds down to one second with the help of a separate slow speed dial. In 1950, the newer version, the Leica IIIf, slightly modified the design concept. A series of simpler-to-use cameras with more features came out the 1950s: the M3, M2, and M1.
In the 1980s, the Leitz Company renamed itself after its most popular brand: Leica. The camera division then became its own company and moved its location to Solms. In recent years, Leica again made history when one of its 1923 cameras was auctioned off at $1.9 million, making it one of the most expensive cameras ever. Leica also opened its first store, located it Porto, Portugal, in 2016.
Leica: A History of Success. Leica. Accessed April 26, 2019. https://leica.pt/leica-a-history-of-success/?lang=en.
Wade, John. The Leica I: The Camera that Changed Photography. Shutterbug. July 13, 2015. Accessed April 26, 2019. https://www.shutterbug.com/content/leica-i-camera-change-photography.